Prospects for scaling up the University of Botswana bio-diesel production to the commercial level look brighter given the results from the pilot project, which was officially launched on August 4, 2022.

Biodiesel production is a government-funded joint project between the University of Botswana, the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) and the Department of Energy in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, and Energy.

In an interview with Botswana Guardian ahead of the Thursday launch at the University of Botswana Faculty of Engineering and Technology open space, the Principal Investigator in the Biodiesel project Prof. Clever Ketlogetswe expressed his optimism for the future of the project.

“I want to see biodiesel production in Botswana, in fact, the country is consuming a lot of diesel, and if it could manage to offset only two per cent of it, we could save a lot of money!”

But as to what would become of the project once the findings of the pilot have been assessed, Prof. Ketlogetswe was non-committal, saying it is a matter for all the relevant stakeholders to decide.

And by relevant stakeholders, Prof. Ketlogetswe is referring to the Department of Energy in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, and Energy, University of Botswana, Debswana, and most likely Botswana Oil, the latter, which according to Thomas Nkhoma, UB Acting Manager, Communications and Media, “is also taking initiatives to be part of the project as it expands”. In fact, Botswana Oil Chief Executive, Meshack Tskekedi was expected to clarify their intention in his vote of thanks speech at yesterday’s launch.

Prof. Ketlogetswe could not hide his excitement when relating how the project started way back in 2010 in his small lab in the Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

Here he built the requisite competency and has managed to produce three PhD students over that time as well as undergrads. In this small lab, Prof Ketlogetswe has equipment that is able to produce at present, 360 litres of biodiesel per batch of feedstock.

The feedstock, he explains, comprises raw oil (used cooking oil) and animal fat sourced from the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Lobatse.

Prof. Ketlogetswe finds it absurd that there are many companies in Botswana that are in the business of exporting used cooking oil to Europe. “We have enough raw material o stimulate the development of biodiesel production in the country”, he says.

Seeing that he could produce 360 litres of biodiesel from his small lab, Prof. Ketlogetswe then approached the University management about using it in the University’s vehicles.

That is how since March this year, the University has been running seven (7) of its vehicles and a tractor on blended fuel (B20), which contains 20 per cent biodiesel and 80 per cent petroleum diesel.

According to Prof. Ketlogetswe, this has proved to be effective and problem free. “We are no longer fuelling these vehicles from outside, we are fuelling them from my lab,” he says excitedly.

And in order to make the system sustainable, Prof. Ketlogetswe’s lab is charging the University for the service – of course at a reasonable fee! When word of the biodiesel started spreading, a team from Debswana’s Jwaneng Mining Company approached the lab in June this year showing interest in the biodiesel.

They are currently using biodiesel (B50) on selected equipment - one of their ferry buses and on a grader. Again, Jwaneng mine energy engineer, Ganamotse Gaenamele Moloki was expected to report that they are happy with the performance of the blended fuel at the launch.

Prof. Ketlogetswe’s lab has all the necessary equipment and chemicals such as methanol and sulphuric acid among others, including test facilities of international standards required for the production of biodiesel.

He says that it takes him two and half days to go through the entire process and is confident that the facilities exist in Botswana if ever the country wants to venture into commercial production. The lab’s milestone achievement in this regard accords well with the University of Botswana’s new strategy, which positions the country’s highest institution of learning as a research-driven centre of excellence that impacts society and the international community in which it exists.

UB Vice Chancellor Prof. David Norris was expected to further elaborate on this strategy in his welcome remarks at the launch, while Midas Sekgabo, the Director of the Department of Energy would speak to the institutional arrangement in this project.